Last year’s Honda Classic took a bit of a hit in terms of its lineup, sporting just three of the world’s top 20 players. That’s because the tournament took place between Tiger Woods’ Genesis Invitational and WGC-Mexico City the two weeks before Honda, and the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship in the two weeks that followed.
That will not happen again this year. The tournament, which starts Feb. 24, will feature six of the top 20 – No. 2 Koepka of Jupiter, No. 11 Tommy Fleetwood, No. 12 Justin Rose, No. 17 Louis Oosthuizen, No. 18 Shane Lowry and No. 19 Gary Woodland of Delray Beach. Rickie Fowler, ranked 26th, also returns.
“We’ve doubled the top 20s in the field,” Honda executive director Ken Kennerly says. “The field is stronger this year. The schedule is the schedule, that’s always going to be the issue for us.”
However, five of the top 10 golfers in the world who live here are skipping the Honda Classic: No. 1 Rory McIlroy (Jupiter), No. 4 Justin Thomas (Jupiter), No. 5 Dustin Johnson (Palm Beach Gardens), No. 7 Patrick Cantlay (North Palm Beach) and No. 9 Tiger Woods (Jupiter Island). Schedule conflicts are the primary reason, although Cantlay is taking off time for a medical procedure.
“Schedules dictate where these guys play,” Kennerly explains. “The good news from our perspective is every player I’ve talked to loves the Honda Classic, loves PGA National and the only reason why they chose to skip it is they’re lining themselves up for the Masters, they’re lining themselves up for The Players Championship and they’re coming off the Tiger Woods Invitational and Mexico.”
Nonetheless, the advantage is having three of the four Majors’ winners from a year ago, Koepka (PGA Championship), Woodland (U.S. Open) and Lowry (British Open), around again this year.
Koepka, raised in Wellington, has won four majors: the PGA Championship and U.S. Open twice each. He was ranked No. 1 in the world when he committed to the Classic, but has been surpassed by McIlroy. He is seeking his first victory at his hometown tournament.
Koepka’s 8-under was his best showing at PGA National last year. He has played five times in the Honda Classic, missing the cut once. He is 7-over par in his 18 rounds.